Saturday, June 9, 2012

(Probably) not going to Mysore, the "right time", doing work that you love

A number of people have offered me many kind words and thoughts over my probably-not-going-to-happen-this-summer Mysore trip. Some have left kind and encouraging comments on this blog (see this post). Others have emailed me personally. I am really grateful for all your kind words and thoughts. Having said this, let me also issue a little disclaimer here: What I'm about to say in this post is not meant to belittle or trivialize your kind intentions; it's just that, being the (over)thinking person that I am, I have this tendency to (over)analyze things that people say or write to me. Please be assured that my (over)thinking or (over)analyzing is not motivated by any kind of ill intent towards anybody. I simply have a (over)thinking and (over)analyzing nature; and what good is a blog, if I can't use it to indulge this nature at least occasionally?

Now that we have this out of the way, I'll speak my mind. Let me begin by making a little observation. After reading through the blog comments and emails that people have sent me about my probably-not-going-to-happen-this-summer Mysore trip, I can't help noticing that the content of all these comments and emails can be broadly divided into three lines of thought:

(1) "I'm so sorry to hear that you won't make it to Mysore this summer."

(2) "I'm so sorry, but I'm sure you will make it there sooner or later."

(3) "I'm so sorry, but I'm sure you will make it there when the time is right-it's not going anywhere."

In particular, (3) is really interesting: At least two people have used these exact same words ("it's not going anywhere"). Makes me wonder if a group of people held a teleconference somewhere recently, and came up with an agreement as to what they will say if Nobel were to tell them he's not going to Mysore this summer... Ha! I'm being really self-important, aren't I? Like people don't have better things to do with their time...

Anyway, (3) really gets me thinking: When is the "right time"? Mysore may not be going anywhere, but where am I going? Am I going anywhere...? Depressing question... no, let's not go there. Anyway, to come back to the first question: When is the "right time"? And how do I recognize the "right time" when it comes along? One senior teacher (you may know who this is; I write about her quite a bit :-)) related that, soon after she first started practicing Ashtanga, she had this dream in which Guruji appeared to save her from a demon (or was it Shiva appearing as a demon? I can't remember the details here, but anyway...). Upon waking from the dream, she knew that she needed to go to Mysore, and bought a plane ticket to India immediately.

The trouble, of course, is that most of us do not have the good fortune of being able to have such vivid dreams which can tell us so vividly when the right time to go to Mysore is... well, maybe I shouldn't write myself off just yet; maybe tonight, I'll dream about Guruji or Sharath appearing to save me from some demon or Hindu-god-disguised-as-a-demon: If this happens, I'll be sure to blog about it first thing tomorrow morning :-) And perhaps more importantly, I'll also know that this is the "right" time, and I'll brush aside all my worries about job/tenure/not-having-permanent-resident-status-in-this-country, and sail (or rather, fly) forth bravely to the land of Mysore...

But unless something like this happens, it looks like I'll be in the exalted ranks of Ashtangis Who Have Yet To Go To The World Capital Of Ashtanga Yoga for a while. Of course, I know that many of you out there may have no desire to go to Mysore, and may not even see Mysore as the World Capital of Ashtanga. That's great. More power to you. One less thing for you to worry about. But I am not you, so I am not so blessed...

But anyway, where the hell am I going with this post? Uh, let's see. So, I was on the topic of the "right time." As I was saying, unless I have some kind of earth-shattering dream or vision soon, this summer is quite probably not the right time to go to Mysore. Although I have gone to some length to avoid saying anything directly about my work situation on this blog, I can at least tell you that this whole probably-not-going-to-Mysore-this-summer dilemma has to do with the fact that going to Mysore this summer will quite probably compromise my work situation and with it, my long-term immigration status in this country. So, at the risk of oversimplifying things (but not by too much), it's a matter of job vs. personal passion/dream.

On a related note (I know that I keep going off on tangents, but everything will come together in the end, trust me...), I recently read this article by Paul Graham. Graham observes that, in our contemporary world, many of us find ourselves doing work that we do not particularly love. He writes:

"One has to make a living, and it's hard to get paid for doing work you love. There are two routes to that destination:
The organic route: as you become more eminent, gradually to increase the parts of your job that you like at the expense of those you don't.

The two-job route: to work at things you don't like to get money to work on things you do.
The organic route is more common. It happens naturally to anyone who does good work. A young architect has to take whatever work he can get, but if he does well he'll gradually be in a position to pick and choose among projects. The disadvantage of this route is that it's slow and uncertain. Even tenure is not real freedom.

The two-job route has several variants depending on how long you work for money at a time. At one extreme is the "day job," where you work regular hours at one job to make money, and work on what you love in your spare time. At the other extreme you work at something till you make enough not to have to work for money again."

Using Graham's terminology, I'll say that over the past few years, I have been following a combination of the organic and two-job routes. On an everyday level, I have been following the two job route: I get up very early in the morning, do my practice, and then go to school to teach and fulfill whatever responsibilities my "day job" demands of me. And whenever I can find the time, I travel to workshops to study with teachers like Kino or Matthew Sweeney. And as you know, I was going to travel to Mysore during this "spare time" during the summer.

Until very recently, I was also trying to follow the organic route. As a relatively new professor without tenure, you pretty much have to "pay the dues", and teach whatever classes the powers-that-be want you to teach. But I had (and still have) this evil plan to someday teach a class that will enable me to dovetail my passion for yoga with my teaching. Specifically, I have been designing an Indian Philosophy course in my spare time. Recently (before shit started hitting the fan at work), I even went as far as to pitch what I thought would be an innovative idea to my colleagues and the, ahem, higher-ups at work: I suggested the idea of an Indian Philosophy course that would have a substantial study abroad in India component. Given my Mysore plans, I'm guessing you can obviously see where my evil plan is going...

Alas, it seems that courses with study abroad components aren't exactly all the rage at many institutions of higher learning in this country. Unless you teach at some fancy liberal arts college or some institution with a generous endowment, such programs are likely to be costly both to the students and to the institution. And besides, what seems to be really the "hot" trend in liberal arts and humanities these days is inter-disciplinary social justice programs which allow students to develop a critical view of the many big social injustices that are happening in our post-911, post-great-recession world. Seen in this light, an Indian philosophy course (even one with a study abroad component) seems too... quaint, even antiquated.

Here are my two cents on inter-disciplinary social justice programs: Honestly, I'm not sure how much good such programs can do, in the bigger scheme of things. While educating otherwise-seemingly-ignorant undergrads on the big evil social injustices happening in this big evil world of ours seems like a great idea, I just can't shake off the feeling that at the end of the day, these programs are not going to gain much social traction: They will simply be dismissed as the creation of a bunch of liberal-cry-baby professors (along with their impressionable, like-minded student-proteges) lamenting the fact that the big bad world, with its human rights abuses and sweatshops and whatnot, does not seem to fit their utopian liberal vision of what the world should be if we were all utopianly-liberally educated rational beings. And why, indeed, should the big bad world be anything but big and bad? Why, for instance, should China pay anything more than lip service to our liberal admonitions about their human rights abuses and sweatshops when they effectively control our purse strings? (I'm sure you don't need me to inform you of the billions (or is it in the trillions now?) of dollars that China holds in U.S. treasury bonds...)

But I digress again. Boy, I really do digress, don't I? I think this is already a digression from a digression, a second-order digression, if you will :-) So... let me try to get myself back on track. As I was saying, until rather recently, I was trying to pursue a two-job route on an everyday level while trying, in my own evil way, to eventually organically combine my "day job" and my passion. Actually, to call my work a "day job" seems wrong: I don't actually hate my job (I really enjoy teaching), even if there are some aspects of it I would rather not have to deal with (won't go into these here...). But I guess you get the general idea here.

So... where is all this going? Actually, I'm not sure myself. Suffice to say that none of all this analyzing has been very helpful in helping me to determine when the "right time" to go to Mysore might be, or if I will recognize it when it comes along... Oh well. As always, I have wasted some perfectly valuable time of yours by making you read my neither-here-nor-there musings about God-knows-what. My apologies. But if you have anything to say about anything I've said, I'll love to hear from you.


  1. Hi Nobel, I applaud your candor. You're being a responsible adult and doing what you have to do, full stop:) Just keep your Mysore plan out there in the universe and the time will arise with no obstructions, then you will know, it's right:) Be well:)

    1. Thanks for your encouraging words, JayaK. I will certainly keep my Mysore plan out there in the universe :-)

  2. Wow, Nobel, some big happenings in your yoga life (I haven't read your blog for a couple of weeks - I was in Paris. And, unlike the friend you mentioned in your last post, found the French canines - and people - very clean and charming.)

    You are doing the right thing.

    Can I put myself in category #3? I am so bummed for this disappointment and your lost opportunity this summer, but Mysore will always be there. When the opportunity presents itself, you will go.

    (Unless the world ends in December, 2012. Kidding.)

    Meanwhile, consider that there is never a "right time" for anything that is really "big" or profound in our lives, or that could change the course of our lives. These experiences seem to arise - to use your word - organically. They happen when they happen, and sometimes planning way ahead for them isn't possible - i.e. falling in love; having a child, finding your dream job.

    Does going to Mysore fall into this category? Perhaps not. Still, it's going to be a great experience when it does happen for you. And, it will happen - if the desire does not leave you.

    (Can I just say, my personal desire to go left me this past Spring, when the whole "to go or not to go" question was being discussed in the Ashtanga blogosphere. Being a part of that discussion made me look at my priorities, my life, my needs as a practitioner and a teacher, and it helped me realize that going to Mysore is not something I have the desire to do any longer. But, that's me. I respect that there are many practitioners who would find my decision a strange one.)

    However, I do definitely want to experience India - and get my Ashtanga need fulfilled simultaneously - so my teenage son and I are "planning" on doing the Namarupa Yatra, not this year, but when/if they offer it the following year.

    Non-touristy, but educational travel to a variety of holy places in India with other dedicated Ashtanga practitioners, living and eating simply each day, plus morning Mysore with an authorized teacher. What's not to love?

    1. Thank you for taking the time to write such a detailed response, Michelle. I really appreciate your sharing your perspective of things with me.

      I would like to go to Paris someday (although not as badly as I would like to go to Mysore :-)). I'm happy to hear that both the canines and the people there are clean and charming :-)

      "consider that there is never a "right time" for anything that is really "big" or profound in our lives, or that could change the course of our lives."

      I think this is right. Maybe the phrase "right time" is being overused. At Claudia's suggestion, I've been reading Eckhart Tolle's "A New Earth" recently. One of the themes that run consistently through Tolle's writings is the idea that we don't actually make things happen; it only appears to be this way from our ego-centered perspective. It would be more accurate to say that things happen *through* us, and we are, in a sense, vessels through which things happen. Seen in this light, trying to "achieve" things or trying to make them happen "no matter what" when the time is not right can only create unnecessary suffering and pain. There is this Chinese story of a foolish farmer who tries to make his rice seedlings grow faster by pulling on them; which, of course, only serves to damage and possibly kill the seedlings. The only thing we can do is to make every effort to create the conditions for the seedlings to grow, and then get out of their way; they grow when it is time for them to grow.

      I can't help thinking that we often also approach many of our ambitions and dreams in a similar way. We try to make our dreams and plans unfold more quickly by "pulling" on things, which is totally counterproductive.

      The Namarupa Yatra looks very interesting, although it doesn't seem to appeal to me as much as the idea of going to Mysore; but who knows, I might change my mind tomorrow :-) I hope you get to go next year--if the world doesn't end on December 31st, that is :-)